Students reflect on their spiritual lives before graduation

Published: Monday, June 25, 2012

Northwestern graduates, faculty and family gathered in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall for NU’s 154th Baccalaureate Service last Thursday, organized by the Chaplain’s Office. The service’s rituals included the religious traditions of the Bahá’í Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Islam and Sikhism.

Kelsey Sheridan (Medill ‘12) said the baccalaureate service is “a time set aside for people to engage spiritually with their transformations” during their time at NU. Over 500 people attended the service, Sheridan said.

After the opening processional of faculty, clergy and chaplains, the ceremony began with a multi-faith call to prayer. This included anadhaan from Islam, a shofar blast from Judaism, bell chimes from Christianity, and the playing of a Tibetan singing bowl from Tibetan Buddhism.

Rabbi Dov Hillel Klein of Tannenbaum Chabad House then delivered an invocation, focusing on the importance of interfaith understanding at NU and the capability of religious faith to make the world a better place.

“How precious it is that we are able to sit together as one,” he said.

University President Morton Schapiro said baccalaureates normally strike him as “gratuitous appendages” at graduations, as faith is often set aside in secular education. In contrast, Schapiro said that secularism at NU means “accepting all faiths without favoritism.” He also said the graduates should be “guided by faith and humility” in their future endeavors.

After Schapiro’s speech, several students read excerpts from the holy texts of each of the represented religions. The readings emphasized the importance of working together to improve the world as individuals inspired by faith.

A musical anthem transitioned the ceremony from the readings to the reflections of four graduating seniors.  Each graduate spoke about their unique religious experiences and their own spiritual growth at NU. Some also commented on the inclusive and understanding nature of NU’s interfaith community.

Speaker Nadia Shireen Ahmed (SESP ‘12), said she found a “family of other religious groups on campus” at NU.

Following the student speeches and another musical anthem, University Chaplain Rev. Timothy Stevens spoke about importance of spiritual awareness, which he said is defined by compassion, integrity, a sense of justice, the recognition of oneself as part of a greater purpose and care “for the world and its people.” He emphasized that such spiritual awareness is essential to building character and consequently making the world a better place.

Derrick Clifton (Comm ‘12) then led the audience in the University Litany, a series of statements combining religious faith and the principles listed in the University motto. Afterwards, the audience and choir sung the University Hymn.

Beth Knobbe, the Sheil Catholic Center Campus Minister, closed the ceremony with a benediction, a request for divine help and guidance.